Also from this aspect, life in the creature is but the reflection of life in God, who is its Creator and Source. For He is the Triune. He is one in being and nature, in mind and will, in holiness and righteousness, in knowledge and wisdom, and in all His infinite perfections. Nor is He a mere power: He is a personal God. And the Scriptures reveal Him to us as three in persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. These divine persons subsist in the one divine being, and they stand in relation of perfect harmony to one another. The Father generates the Son, the Son is generated by the Father, the Spirit is breathed forth and proceeds from the Father and the Son. They are one in being and nature, yet personally distinct. The Father knows and loves the Son, in infinite perfection, in the Spirit; the Son knows and loves the Father, in the Spirit; the Spirit knows and loves the Father, through the Son, in Himself, and He “searches the depths of God.” Thus the three persons of the (Holy Trinity live in eternal harmony and perfect fellowship with one another. There is no separation or disunity, no disharmony or conflict, in God. He is a covenant God, and lives the life of perfect friendship.
It has pleased God to reveal this life, in the highest degree in man.
For man, life is not the same as for the lower creature, the plant and the animal.
To be sure, as a living soul, he also lives a physical, and a psychical life. He reacts upon the world about him. He sees and hears, He tastes, and touches, and smells. He perceives, and interprets the world in which he lives, and constantly he adjusts himself to his environment. And he lives in relation to his fellow men. Yet, this is not all. He also lives in a conscious relation to God. Thus he was originally created. God formed him out of the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, made him an intellectual and volitional creature, a being that was adapted to bear and to reflect the very image of God. And with this image of God he was endowed. He was created with perfect knowledge, in order that his mind might react in love upon the revelation of the mind of God; with uprightness of will, in order that, in all his volitional life, he might be in harmony with the will of God, and have his delight in the keeping of His commandments; and with spotless holiness, so that all his desires and inclinations were consecrated to the living God. Thus he acted and lived, in the midst of the earthly creation, and with all things, in harmony with the triune God. He was made a covenant creature, and lived a covenant life. To know and love his God with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and to serve Him as His friend; and thus to taste that the Lord is good,—that was the life of man.
But if life for man, who was created after the image of God, is the fellowship of friendship with the Most High, it is evident that eternal life cannot be conceived as an endless extension of our present existence.
Our present earthly life is not real life, but death.
For by nature we are alienated from the living God, objects of His wrath and condemnation, enemies of the ever blessed one. Our mind is darkened so that we are devoid of the true knowledge of God, and we love the lie. Our will is perverse, our heart is corrupt, our whole nature is polluted. If life, to speak in terms of the philosopher we quoted above, is the constant adaptation of man’s inner nature to Him who is the only good, and the overflowing fountain of all good, the sinner who stands in opposition and rebellion against God, certainly lies in the midst of death. Our present existence ad infinitum, is not eternal life, but perpetual death.
But neither may eternal life, in the Scriptural sense of the word, be presented or conceived as a perpetuation of Adam’s life in the state of righteousness. Adam did, indeed, have true life. And if he had not sinned he would have continued in the state of life he enjoyed in paradise. But his life was not the same as that higher state of bliss which the Bible calls eternal life. Nor would it have been possible for him to attain to this most glorious state, even though he had never sinned.
Eternal life is qualitatively different from all other life, also from the life of Adam in the state of rectitude.
It is, first of all, life that has its source in, and reaches us from the incarnated Son of God. That incarnation is the central realization of the heavenly tabernacle, of God’s eternal covenant. For it is the most intimate union between God and man. In Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, God of God, the Word, the express image of His substance, is revealed in human nature, lives in us and with us. This is a profound mystery. But so much is clear from Scripture that eternal life is conditioned by and has its source in Christ, the Son of God in human nature. He is the life and the resurrection,; the way, and the truth, and the life, ; in Him the life was manifested, and He is the revelation of that eternal life, which was with the Father, ; He is the true God and life eternal, . Eternal life, therefore, is the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, whom God has sent, that is, it is the knowledge of God which we have in and through Jesus Christ. . When the Word was made flesh, the first witnesses beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. . And He declared, as the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, the invisible God, whom no one hath seen at any time. . This higher knowledge, this greatest revelation of the living God, the first man Adam did not have, nor could he ever attain to it. Eternal life is that knowledge of and fellowship with God that is rooted in the incarnation, and is bestowed upon us through the Spirit of the Son of God. It is the real and most intimate fellowship of which the Lord speaks in His sacerdotal prayer: “That they may all be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” .
Adam was of the earth, earthy. God’s revelation to him, through the things that are made, was never more than a reflection of His face. In Christ, the Son of God in human nature, who is the image of the invisible God, we shall see Him face to face, and know even as we are known.. He that hath seen Him, hath seen the Father. John 14:9.
Moreover, eternal life is resurrection life: it lies on the other side of death. It is victory over death. It may safely be said that, except through the deep and dark way of sin and death, this higher goal of bliss that is called eternal life could never be attained. We do not morbidly beatify and extol the fall of Adam, as, in fact, it has been done, as if it were a good in itself. On our part, there is nothing but sin and shame in that fall of our first father in paradise, a cause for deep humiliation and repentance. For we wantonly despised the riches of the knowledge of God, and trampled His covenant under foot, choosing rather to be allied with the devil, and to follow his lie, than to walk in the light of God’s blessed favor. But on God’s part, there is only the revelation of His marvelous wisdom and power in this fall of the first man Adam. For he chose this way, because He had provided some better thing for us. Even though the guilt and responsibility of the fall remains wholly man’s, it cannot be doubted for a moment that also the fall of Adam was quite according to the counsel of the Most High. His purpose must be realized, and sin and death are subservient to that purpose. That purpose was the realization of His everlasting covenant of friendship with His people in Christ.
In, the apostle asks the question with respect to the Jews that apostatized: “Have they stumbled that they should fall?” In the light of the context, it is very evident that the meaning of this question is: “Was their fall the positive and ultimate purpose of God?” And the apostle replies: “God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.” The same question might be asked with a view to God’s purpose with the fall of the first man Adam: “Did he fall merely in order that he should sink away into sin and death?” And the answer is also similar to that in the eleventh chapter of the Romans: “God forbid; He had a positive purpose that must be realized: that eternal life in the heavenly tabernacle of God might come unto the elect.”
God’s way is always in the sea!
He makes impossible situations, in order that He may reveal Himself in all the glory of His power: the things that are impossible with man are possible with God. He creates the darkness, in order that He may cause the light to shine in the darkness, and may be known as the one in whom there is no darkness at all. According to His counsel, and certainly by His all controlling power and government, the first man Adam falls, in order that Christ, the image of the invisible God, and the firstborn of every creature may come. In the way of sin and death, and of all the suffering of this present time, He chooses His way, in order that, through that way, He may become known in all His glorious power, and wisdom, and knowledge; in His unchangeable righteousness and justice, in His boundless love, abundant mercy, everlasting grace and lovingkindness, and His power to save.
The knowledge of God, as the God of our salvation, unto whom we cry from the depths of sin and death, and the fellowship with Him, is eternal life.
That highest knowledge, that most intimate fellowship, that fullest experience of the glory and goodness of the Lord, was not possible in the first paradise, on this side of death: it could be attained only through the dark way of sin and death. Eternal life is life through death. It is resurrection life.
Adam knew the love of God as it was revealed in all the goodness of creation: he did not know the love of God in that depth of blessedness and in that unchangeable faithfulness that is revealed in the death of the Son of God. In the state of rectitude, man tasted the grace of God positively, as His favor: he did not know the depth of that grace as it is revealed in redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. He knew and tasted that God is merciful, for he was encompassed with divine blessings, but the abundant mercy revealed in the wonder of deliverance, whereby God saves us from the power of sin, the curse, and death, to raise us to the highest possible blessedness of heavenly glory in His tabernacle,—this he could not possibly know. He certainly knew God in His great power, knowledge, and wisdom, for the things that are made loudly declared them unto him: but he could not possibly know the mighty power of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and in His exaltation in heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; nor could he be cognizant of that unsearchable wisdom and knowledge of God, by which He makes the very powers of darkness, of sin and death, subservient to His purpose of salvation and glory in Christ.
Eternal life is resurrection life: it could only be attained through the death and resurrection of the Son of God. When God chose the deep way of sin and death, He made it at once impossible for man, of himself, so to walk in that way that he would reach life eternal. God Himself must walk in that way. Only His Son could become the first begotten of the dead. Hence, He came to us, in our guilt and damnation, in our misery and death, when He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin. In that Son, the God of our salvation, the Head of the Church, walked all the way of righteousness and justice, of wrath and death and hell, in order to atone for sin, and obtain for us everlasting righteousness. He walked the way of death, and through death, into the resurrection, and becomes the revelation of the God of our salvation in all the abundance of His power and might, of His wisdom and knowledge, of His righteousness and holiness, of the riches of His grace and mercy, and everlasting, unchangeable love.
And when that God of our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ, makes His dwelling with us, calls us out of darkness into the light of life, instructs us by His Spirit and Word in the true knowledge of God as revealed in Him,—then we have eternal life.
It is the life that is based on the everlasting righteousness of God in Christ; that, therefore, is found only in the way of death and resurrection of the Son of God; that is wrought in our hearts by the indwelling Spirit of Christ; and that consists in the knowledge of and fellowship with God as He is revealed in all the glory of His blessed virtues in the face of Jesus Christ.
That life is everlasting, it can never be lost, exactly because it has its root in the incarnation of the Son of God.
Just as the union of the human and the divine natures in the person of the Son of God can never be broken or subverted, so the fellowship of God with us in Him is everlasting.
The beginning of this everlasting life believers in Christ have and enjoy even now, in this life.
The Catechism refers to this in the words: ”since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy.” This “feeling” must not be understood in a vague, mystical, pietistic sense of the word, as if it merely consisted in some “sweet fellowship” or “good times with the Lord.” To be sure, the believer, even in this life, enjoys such moments of special nearness to the Lord in Christ, when on the wings of prayer and meditation, his soul is drawn upward, above things mundane, into the blessed sphere of the sanctuary of God. Yet, even apart from such moments, whence he must needs return to things earthy, and to the common level of his life and struggle as a believer in this world, he certainly experiences the joy of eternal life, the beginning of it, in his heart. For he possesses the principle of that life: he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. He is reborn through the Spirit of Christ. He is raised from the dead. In Christ, he is set in heavenly places. And of this new life he is conscious by faith. He “feels in his heart the beginning of eternal joy,” when he lays hold on the mercy and grace of God in the forgiveness of sin; when he is assured that, though all things, within and without, testify against him, he is righteous before God; when the Spirit of adoption assures him of his sonship, and he cries Abba, Father; when he hates sin, has his delight in the precepts of his God, and longs for the final deliverance from the body of this death; and when he looks forward in hope, rooted in the love of God that is shed abroad in his heart, to the final adoption and justification, the redemption of his body.
True, all this is only a beginning.
Even the experience and consciousness of this “beginning of eternal joy” is not always equally clear and vivid. In fact, there are times in the life of the believer when this “feeling” is not or hardly present. Yet, its reality cannot be doubted. Scripture everywhere teaches us that the believer in Christ does, indeed, have, and also experience, this beginning of eternal life and its joy. And the believer will enjoy the blessedness and peace of it, according as he earnestly walks in the way of sanctification, fights against sin, and has his delight in keeping the precepts of his God.
Yet, more than a beginning, and, in fact, relatively speaking, only a small beginning, this “feeling of eternal joy” never becomes in this life. It is a struggle, a fighting, a “groaning” joy. It is opposed and oppressed by the motions of sin in our members, by the world in which we live, and even by things earthy. For “ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of our body.”. And “we that are in this tabernacle do groan: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” . We do have life, but in the midst of death; we lay hold on perfect righteousness, but in the midst of unrighteousness; we have been raised from the dead, yet we live this resurrection-life in our mortal body; we are set in heavenly places with Christ, yet we are encumbered with the constant experience of things earthy.
We enjoy the beginning of eternal life in a tension, the tension of hope.
But this hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts.
The beginning of eternal life we now enjoy will be translated into the fullness of joy in the tabernacle of God.
It will advance into the state of spiritual perfection after death, when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, and we shall inherit the house of God, eternal in the heavens.
But it will not reach its final perfection of glory, until all the saints in Christ, all the elect of God, shall have been gathered, our bodies shall have put off corruption and mortality, and shall have put on incorruption and immortality, the new heavens and the new earth shall have been created, and the tabernacle of God shall be with men forever.
And, to be sure, that new creation itself will be beautiful and glorious, for all things therein will be united in Christ as their head.
But the essence of all the blessedness and glory of that new world will, nevertheless, be the perfected fellowship of friendship with the living God in Christ. Everywhere in that new world we shall see Christ, and, in Him, the Father. We shall see Him face to face. All our knowledge will then be theology, in the highest sense of the word. This is life eternal, to know Thee, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent!
Of that glory we can only form a faint conception as long as we are in this life.
For, as the Catechism reminds us, that perfect salvation belongs to the things “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.”
But when it shall be revealed, all of that eternal life will be concentrated upon the everlasting praise of God, of whom, and through whom, and unto whom are all things.
To Him be the glory forever!